Do you consider the possibilities? Like, all of the possibilities? The unlikely ones like coronal mass ejection or alien abduction and the likely ones like ice storms and layoffs. How do you handle it all? What if the sky really is falling? What if my kids run screaming from the farm seeking freedom in the city?
I don’t know.
Let me summarize this post for you. I have no idea which, if any, of my children will want the farm in 20 years. I can’t even guarantee that I will want the farm in 20 years. But I promise you I love my children. I love my wife. I don’t want to be alone. So we adapt. We respond. We change. We seek unity.
We make the best choices we can given the information we have at the time. But we have to be careful about what choices we bother to wrestle. When I find myself dwelling on an issue there is one question that brings everything into focus for me.
What problem am I trying to solve?
The picture above is from the center of Julie’s vision board. What do you see in there that has anything to do with farming? (BTW, there is a lot of cool stuff on her vision board. Feel free to ask her to share the whole thing with you. I don’t feel like I should share the whole thing today.)
The question from our friend SailorsSmallFarm came in like this:
Will one or more of your kids take on the farm when it’s their turn? It’s the big question isn’t it…because if they don’t, who will? And is all this worth it if they don’t? Quite a gamble, but worthwhile, I believe.
So, OK. My bad. I really, REALLY dig the farming thing. Like, really really. Like if I had my druthers I would spend my days moving cows and checking brooder temps and hauling feed sacks and scratching pig ears. Even in cold weather. That is so in my wheelhouse. But it’s not everybody’s bag. I get that.
It may not be the ideal any of my children prescribe for their own lives. And that’s OK.
I have this job thing. It’s in town. It pays money. It takes me away from the farm but it enables me to farm. Fortunately, my town job does even better than that. It makes the farm payment with a little left over. What do we do with that remainder? We encourage family spiritual and intellectual development. How do we do that? We read books together and talk about them. We read the Bible and talk about it. We seek out opportunities to be giving in our community and invest in others. We go to the zoo and the art museum together and otherwise devote our surplus time to #5 on the list, Providing and Maintaining a common family culture.
Common family culture
What is a “Jordan”? What does it take to make the team? Are we farmers? No. Roofers maybe. Mom’s people are farmers…or were. But what happens when the farmers leave the farm? Is something lost? The wealth was retained and spread among the heirs to fritter away or save but was some part of common family culture lost when mom’s generation left the farm?
I dunno. Maybe. There was something common binding mom’s side of the family together. Maybe it was grandma Chism more than the farm. The Matriarch. The farm is a place we all have sentimental attachment to. Grandma Chism was more. But was grandma the common tie or just the focal point? Grandma’s sister (Aunt Melba) was certainly part of the culture when she was alive. Did we lose something when she died? Her kids stopped coming so often. Everybody goes to grandma’s house. Grandmas stay home. My mom is a grandma. Most of her siblings are grandparents. Christmas parties got smaller when my grandma died. Did our family get smaller?
What gave us our identity? What gives us our identity now? Do you have to live on the farm to be a Jordan? No. Does your last name have to end in Jordan to be a Jordan? No. Do you have to live in Illinois to be a Jordan? No. Is it necessary to be an American to qualify as a Jordan? No. But experiences and foundational beliefs seem to be part of it.
Our family culture does not seem to be defined by the land we live on. Not defined. Our family culture is certainly shaped by the farm as we are always shaped, in part, by our interactions with the world around us. But farm or no, we are still a family. We still have purpose.
So, SailorsSmallFarm, I guess I disagree with your question. The big question is not “Will the kids take the farm?” The big question is can Julie and I help our children to find their purpose and can we align our family goals with each specific calling? Can we maintain a common culture over generations? Can we create a structure that, like a grandmother, brings everyone back together…uniting us in some intangible way?
I don’t have an answer to that question. I think we can but I don’t really know what it looks like. But I think the farm gives us an anchor. It’s home. It’s the place we go to for safety. We have a sentimental attachment here…if not the memories of the land then to the memories of family we buried here. But the house? The farm? The cows? Those things are not “Jordan”. They are not particularly “Chism” either. They are just things. And they only exist to help us fulfill our family mission:
We work together as a team to steward God’s resources, create a welcoming home, share with others, encourage one another, learn and explore new ideas and pursue our God given purpose.
So let’s move on to the next part of your question. If they move away will it all be worth it?
I am certain we are not wasting our time. There is no gamble here.
It felt like a gamble when we first arrived on the farm. Oh, the house we sold in the suburbs! It was perfect. Really. Two story, brick. New furnace and A/C. New roof. Dry basement. Fireplace. Two car attached garage. I installed hardwood floors throughout, built floor to ceiling bookshelves in three rooms. Two and a half bath. Four bedrooms. Excellent, quiet neighborhood, nice neighbors of a wide range of ages. Three doors down from a community pool in a nice little town just 25 minutes from St. Louis. The back yard was fenced waist-high allowing neighbors to chat and offer a drink while cutting the grass, raking the leaves or just watching the kids play. The kids had a swing in the big tree in the back yard. It couldn’t have been better. Further, we bought well and had our expenses so tightly controlled we were saving a huge percentage of our income.
Dad was shocked when we sold. Shocked! Surprised! Flabbergasted! Why would we leave paradise to go kill chickens. “Have you even killed a chicken? Do you think you can do it? They stink. The work is not fun. This is the nicest house any of us have ever lived in!”
The house sold very quickly and we moved into grandma’s house.
Talk about a contrast.
We made a mistake. A big mistake. Not the farm. The house. Wow. Wow! What a hole.
The kids cried. The older daughter missed her best friend from next door. The younger daughter missed our elderly neighbors. There were spiders and wasps and swarms of flies at the farm house. It was pretty icky. Grandma had rented the house to a work crew for a while and they, apparently, liked to drink beer, play poker and go fishing. Housework was not a priority. Julie cried.
There was a problem with the sewer system. The house smelled. Stink. Stank. Stunk.
Then we got the heating bill for the first winter. Oh! My! GOSH!
Ahem! Mr. Jordan, I believe you were attempting to persuade the reader that your farming endeavors were not in vain.
I just don’t want to sugarcoat it. It got pretty gritty. Raccoons had attempted to dig into the kitchen through the roof. Rain water flooded the kitchen. Chimney swifts flew into the chimney and out through the basement. I caught one during a birthday party once. Aunt Marian was impressed.
I would like to say “But, it all worked out. The house is now our home.” but that really doesn’t do it justice. The house still has problems. We are tackling them one by one.
However, in spite of the initial discomfort I feel certain that we made the right choice.
We live next to my parents. How cool is that? I want a close, ongoing relationship with my children. They aren’t a 20 year sentence. They are a lifelong blessing! Or I want them to be… And what better way than for me to model it with my own parents? My parents live next door…if next door is half a mile down the road. I talk to my dad daily. Do we always agree? LOL! No. No! But we don’t have to agree. I don’t expect my kids to always agree with me. I expect them to honor me as I honor my parents. I believe that our children will arise and call Julie blessed (her husband also and he praises her!). Could that happen in town? Yup. Do I want to move back? Nope. But someday I might.
Right now my kids can range through 60 acres, picking nuts and berries, going fishing, building forts, sledding, climbing trees…you name it. There is a barn full of life. Horses to ride, kittens to tame, barn swallows to marvel over. We are raising free-range children. 99% of children are locked down in confinement houses, packed tightly into small areas and given antibiotics. Ours are given a varied ration and a clean environment with fresh air and sunshine with every opportunity to express their distinctive human-ness. We even tailor each child’s education to match their interests. Compare that to the poor, suffering children you see raised in medicated confinement. Sigh.
But that stuff is right now. I have no idea what happens next. Will my children marry? Who will they marry? Will I be a grandfather in 10 years? Don’t know. Can’t know. But I can work to meet my children where they are. I can work to understand my children for who they are. I can help my children to understand who we are. We are our parent’s children. We look to them for wisdom. We continue to honor them. We work to continue learning, continue developing, continue growing. We care for the resources we have been trusted with…be that money, cattle, land, lives or just time.
Will my children want to continue on the farm in 20 years? Will I want to continue on the farm in 20 years? Dunno. I’ll tell you when we get there. Maybe I’ll look back on this experiment as a failure, like the collarless button up shirts of the ’90’s. But I suspect this will be different. My children are being formed right here right now. The work we are doing right now could impact generations to come no matter where they live.
Farm? No Farm? Dunno.
Family? Worth it.